An Old Box of Cassettes

When someone asks me what my favorite type of music is, I often hesitate with an answer. I don’t have a definite favorite genre. I grew up in a house where our father played anything from The Rolling Stones to Hank Williams Sr., so my taste in music spans through numerous genres.

My father spent hours every weekend recording songs off the radio onto cassette tapes. He also recorded hundreds of 45s and 33 vinyl albums onto cassettes. He did the same with his 8-Track tapes as well. The only beneficial quality an 8-Track tape held over an album or cassette was that it could continue playing through over and over without having to be flipped. The worst thing about an 8-Track tape was how quickly they jammed up and broke. I often wonder if they had somehow figured out a way to strengthen the structure of 8-Tracks if the switch-over to cassettes might have been delayed by a decade.

My father loved music and wrote songs. He tried for many years to make it big writing songs, and he sold several. He even moved to Murfreesboro, TN, to be near Nashville with the better hope of finding the right venue. And while he possessed the talent to write good songs, a singer he was not. Sadly, he was tone deaf and lacked the ability of carrying the proper pitch, but that didn’t stop him from recording himself singing along with the songs he recorded off the radio or his vast album collection. Often, he was half drunk or drunk when he did so, which could have been comical except that he’d force everyone to sit and listen to those tapes when he was sober. Not one of us was brave enough to tell him the truth whenever he asked, “What do you think?”

You’d have to have known our father, and what would have ensued should one of us have actually given him the slightest critical advice. I doubt Simon Cowell would have told him the blunt truth. So what else could we do but nod and smile, hoping he didn’t pry for a deeper answer?

Now, I don’t profess to be a singer, but I will credit him for having the boldness to do so and still believe that his version was better than the original. Even after I was an adult and went to his house for an occasional visit, he’d say, “Come in here, and listen to this.” I still cringe …

After he and my mother divorced, he left behind a box of cassettes. I don’t know if my father ever knew it, but there were two different cassette recordings of his albums and 45s. The ones he made with himself singing along, and another copy without him singing backup that my mother had secretly recorded. And that was the box of treasure he left behind.

CCR, Jim Croce, Don Williams, Oldies, Country, Rock, Elvis, Jerry Reed, Tom T. Hall, George Jones, and many other artists and compilations that I eventually wore out by listening to them over and over. What fascinates me about songs are the ones that tell a complete story in less than three minutes. That takes immense talent. And all these stories set to music I enjoyed. It didn’t matter what genre. What mattered was how those songs painted pictures in my mind and at the same time melded memories that will last my lifetime.

The same has probably happened to you as well. Have you ever been driving down the highway and an older song comes on the radio? Of course you have. Immediately, the mind goes back to an old memory, which might be good or bad, but you’re taken back to that time because there is some significance in that song for you. Some songs sadden you from heartache while others rekindle fonder times when things in life seemed easier and less troubling.

That old box of cassettes is no longer around, but the memories linger. iTunes keeps me busy at times as I search to replace songs I loved during my youth and still love today. Music shapes our memories. Maybe we all have our own soundtrack playing behind the scenes of our lives that no one else dances to, so try to enjoy the songs until the ending credits scroll.

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